Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Education in Belize: 2016 New School Year (Students Classroom and/or Learning Challenges)

As we start a new school year in 2016, I salute and validate the hundreds/thousands of teachers and educators in Belize who work enthusiastically everyday to help young Belizeans keep alive and  glowing that spark of "wanting to learn".  I will always cherish the experience of working closely with young people, starting in 1978 in Belize as a high school English and Spanish Language/Literature teacher, up to 2010-2012 as high school guidance counselor.   A large part of any attempt to educate young people, in both Primary and Secondary schools, includes never ever giving up on trying to understand why/how, day in and day out, so many students must struggle so hard to learn.  Why is it that some students behave so very well in school, and progress each year with hardly any problems, while others seem so hard-to-handle/teach?  Why does learning just never come to some students without a multitude of problems? 
Without a doubt, trying to understand and then help students everyday try to overcome their learning challenges can be very challenging and exhausting -- for teachers, administrators, and especially parents.  Nonetheless, my own experience as teacher, guidance counselor, and parent in encouraging and helping young minds confront, understand, and overcome their struggles so that they could keep learning, always rewarded me with the most positive and fulfilling feelings in the world.  (Although, it really never brought financial fulfillment.) 
Teachers and educators in Belize, thank you for recommitting yourselves to the Education process in this 2016 school year.  You have chosen a most noble profession: helping and enabling students to learn each day. 

Students:  Welcome to a new school year.  Many of you are now attending a new (high) school, and obviously have every reason to be fearful of what/who you do not yet know.  That, believe it or not, is quite normal for anyone who attends a new school - no matter what level.  My experience of many years, working in various types schools (private, public, charter, continuation) and with all kinds of students, has proven that you will quickly forget any such fears.  Before you know it, perhaps by the end of September, you will have made dozens of new friends of all ages, especially your own; and, you will each have met new teachers, many of whom you will like and find to be most inspiring. 
Moreover, for those of you who are afraid that, perhaps, you are not good at, or will have a hard time memorizing new materials, please realize that there are many ways to learn, other than just by memorizing the material and/or learning by rote.  In school, you will be presented with many fun ways to learn, whether in the classroom, while participating in athletic/sport programs, and/or during extra curricular activities. 
Please know that many teachers today are aware that standardized testing may not always measure a student's intelligence and/or learning abilities.  So, always feel free to reach out to your teachers and Administrators/Principals at school.  They are there to help you!  Remember, getting a good education means much more than just getting good scores on tests.  Your professional educators at school are well-trained and have devoted most of their lives to helping each of you learn. 
Most importantly, realize that your (new) school is also your very own community!  Both you and your school exist to strengthen, validate, and improve each other now.  Be ready to grow at school: physically, emotionally, academically, and in so many other ways.  Above all, be ready to enjoy your school career.

Teachers and Administrators/Principals:  Welcome to a new school year and to the challenges of  working closely everyday with hundreds of (new) students:  helping them to learn and master a new curriculum, and encouraging them to understand themselves and perhaps rough periods of their unsteady growth. 
I am sure that you each already know what a large difference you each make in determining whether these young people will choose to improve their lives and ultimately prepare for a productive career, or whether they will opt to simply give up on themselves, after but a short time in school, and choose an easy way out: dropping out of school to join an illegal/criminal gang that promises to "have their back" and sustain them.   Thank you each for positively influencing their young minds, and helping them to have confidence in themselves and in a promising future. 
In addition, allow me to forewarn each of you that it will be quite tempting to fall into the trap of  (mis)labeling students, especially the new ones, within the first few days/weeks of school.  It is no secret that first impressions, especially negative ones, of students crowded daily into packed classrooms are never easy to brush aside or forget.  Yes, there will be those "hard-to-learn" students, perhaps "troublesome" ones, perhaps those who simply "do not seem to care" about schoolwork, and/or those who refuse to participate or volunteer.  Even if you are tempted to (mis)label students, remember that it helps immensely to start each day by reminding yourself that your students  look up to you as their very own leader - and hero.  With this in mind, you might take a step back from looking merely at their (mis)behaviors and (mis)labels and choosing to see instead students with learning challenges.  You can then encourage them to learn, despite their struggles, by showing them that you too must/can learn how to deal with others, even those who (perhaps you mislabeled) make you uncomfortable.  Remember that a school is always a community of learners, never a one-way street.  Just as students may have different rates of learning, so too you teachers will each need to keep us with different rates of training.
It will help tremendously to understand that your students' learning challenges may range from the quite simple to perhaps the rather complex.  Some students may have visual problems and not see well; eyeglasses and or sitting near the front/back may help.  Some students may not hear well; hearing aids and/or providing additional writing material for them may help.  Some needy students may even come to school hungry; perhaps a free or low-priced school lunch program may be beneficial.  On the other hand, some students may have unique learning styles; and, where some of them show strengths others may show weakness.  Just because they may be different from each other, though, does not make any one better than the other. 
Students with behavioral problems/challenges should be referred to the guidance counselor; if necessary, these students should be referred to outside professionals when/if necessary.  Remember, step one to being able to help students is always by trying to understand them.

Parents:   Above all else, your children look to you today for direction and structure.  If you think that sometimes your children drive you crazy at home, imagine what their teachers at school think of them...   Understanding and accepting your children for who they are will always be paramount if you are to nurture and support them. 
Without a doubt, you each have one of the most important jobs in the world: building/shaping the future of your children, and of Belize.  No one ever said it would be easy; but the rewards and a productive future will be priceless!  As we start this new school year, we also start the daily weekday morning madness/rush to be off to school on time; the noon rush home for lunches; the students' room messes/disasters and never-ending homework; the sibling rivalries and conflicts, inside and outside the home, including sometimes anger and/or aggression; the push to get your children to help to some degree with housework when they are not attending school; and most importantly, the effort to support their teachers and schools who are working hard to help your children learn.
Thank you for all that you do to help your children succeed at school.  Thank you, especially, to each parent who makes every effort to establish effective and ongoing relationships with teachers and schools for the good of your very own children. 

Communities:   Your Indo-European roots, kom (everyone) and moin (exchange) originally came together to mean "shared by all".  Latin communis (source) was then adapted by the French to become communer (available to everyone).  So, when we refer to communities today we are not referring merely to specific physical locations, i.e. cities, towns, or villages in Belize.  Rather, we are referring to places where daily life is shared and exchanged.  "The community that lives together, learns together."  This, in other words, is another way of stressing that each community should share mutual commitments with its schools.   
As with parents, communities need to be nurturing and supportive of its young people, no matter how challenging this may be.  Today, in this ever-changing 21st Century, all forces in each community in Belize needs to join together to help our young people meet the challenges of growing and learning.  Integrating family, school, church, businesses/ professionals in their respective communities will go a long way toward establishing the much-needed leadership and teamwork needed to help young students (Belize) learn and grow.

May this new school year be a good and successful one for all teachers, students, parents, and communities in Belize!

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